There's something of a void at Real Madrid - a void that is usually filled by a shiny new signing, but things are being held up at the Bernabeu, writes Tim Stannard...
The last time Deportivo la Coruna were relegated they managed to bounce back, but this time it might be different. Tim Stannard reports on Spain's dramatic final day...
Since José Mourinho rode into town, the Santiago Bernabéu press room has been a place for bad tempered rants, complaints about all and sundry and sulky displays of petulance, never surpassed perhaps by the Portuguese's suggestions in 2011 that Barcelona were being backed by a cabal made up of UEFA and UNICEF. "Why?" he shrugged, after a Champions League semi-final clash that did not go especially well for his side.
On Wednesday night, though, in an experience that was quite disconcerting, Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson were in the most pleasant of moods with both claiming that they had good reason to feel confident about prevailing in the second leg of the last 16 clash. There was barely even a mumble about the referee, which must be a first for the pair.
The vibe from the Manchester United manager was disarmingly cheerful. "I know, I'm useless!" joked the coach to a journalist who asked the very direct question of why Chicharito was not selected for the game. The high spirits were pulsating from someone who had clearly enjoyed the whole experience of the Madrid trip and whose game plan had gone very well indeed to produce a result that makes his side favourites to go through to the quarter-finals.
"I would have gone for a 1-1 before the match," claimed the Scotsman who takes an away goal back to Old Trafford along with practical experience of Real Madrid's ongoing susceptibility at set-pieces and how to manage the right balance of numbers to avoid being caught on the Spanish side's counter-attack. Ferguson did say, though, that he was in agreement with Mourinho who had said previously that the tie was finely balanced at 50-50.
Although there were a few dangerous moments - aside from Ronaldo's goal, of course - that David de Gea dealt with well on what must have been a nervy night for the goalkeeper, Real Madrid were largely restricted to long range efforts and had run out of steam and ideas by the 75th minute, the moment when a previously cagey United began to take the initiative.
However, Mourinho also gave off the vibe of feeling very comfortable that it would be the Spanish side winning the tie at Old Trafford on March 5, unfussed with the opponent's away goal, saying it could be cancelled out in England, especially if his team are given more space to break.
Indeed, the Portuguese looked like being the happiest Madridista in the Santiago Bernabéu. The general feeling from the supporters leaving the stadium after the game was of an opportunity missed and that they needed to take a lead to Old Trafford if there was any chance of going through.
"Bad, but not completely horrible," shrugged one fan, blowing out his cheeks. Despite what was still an industrious performance, too many of the club's sins this season were apparent - no-shows from the strikers aside from Ronaldo, a lack of ideas on how to break down deep-lying defences, but most critical of all huge wobbliness from corners. "We train, we organise ourselves, we define our roles one by one, we watch videos of opponents to know their strong points at set-pieces, but when you lose individual battles, organisation isn't enough," was the lament from Mourinho on Danny Welbeck's opener.
Real Madrid's best hope is that Ferguson chooses to be bold at Old Trafford and gambles a little, trying to finish the visitors off from the start by allowing Mourinho's side precious space required to launch counter-attacks. History and statistics, though, are working against Madrid with the Spanish club never having come back from being 1-1 down in the first leg of a European tie in four attempts.
Real Madrid won't even have the chance to put the likes of Ronaldo or the groin-strained Xabi Alonso on ice before the re-match with the club facing Barcelona on the Tuesday and Saturday before the Old Trafford clash, in the Spanish Cup and league respectively. These are games where resting players simply isn't an option, even if there is nothing tangible at stake such as the game being held in La Liga.
Whilst both coaches may have claimed that the tie is equally balanced, the reality is that the last 16 clash is now United's to lose rather than Real Madrid's to win. That's why Ferguson was rightly happy.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter